Monday, January 3, 2011

1/3 Kundera on Beethoven Op.110

Milan Kundera writes about Beethoven's late piano sonata Opus 110:

The Dream of Total Heritage in Beethoven (excerpt)

"...The op.110 sonata amazes me even more (than the Op.106): the fugue is part of the third (final) movement; it is introduced by a short passage of a few bars marked recitative (the melody loses its song-like quality here and becomes speech)... Then comes a composition in four parts. The 1st: an arioso (entirely homophonic, a melody una corda (softly) accompanied by chords in the left hand, mood classically serene); the 2nd: a fugue; 3rd: a variation on that arioso (the same melody turns expressive, plaintive; the mood romantically torn apart); the 4th: a continuation of that fugue, with the theme inverted (it moves from piano to forte and in the four last bars becomes entirely homophonic, without a trace of polyphony).

So within its brief ten-minute span, this third movement (including its short recitative prologue) is notable for its extraordinary heterogeneity of emotion and form; yet the listener does not realize this, because the complexity seems so natural and simple. (Let that be a lesson: the formal innovations of the great masters always have a certain discreetness about them; such is true perfection; only among the small masters does novelty seek to call attention to itself.)

Bringing the fugue (the model form of polyphony) into the sonata (the model form of classical music), Beethoven seems to have laid his hand on the scar left by the passage between two great periods: the one stretching from the earliest polyphony in the twelfth century up to Bach, and the next one grounded in what we have come to term “homophony.” As if he had wondered: is the legacy of polyphony still mine?... and how could the serene spirit of polyphony resist the emotional subjectivity of the music born of classicism? can two such opposite conceptions of music co-exist? ...I imagine that Beethoven wrote his sonatas dreaming he was heir to the whole of European music since its beginnings."

Piano Sonata Op. 110 3rd Movement - Rudolf Serkin 1987
Adagio intro at 0:00
Recitative starts at 0:30 
Arioso at 1:26
Fugue at 3:22
Arioso Var 6:00
Fugue continued 8:26

Interesting thoughts.  Beethoven is usually credited as bridging the classical and the romantic periods in classical music, but Kundera later here gives B. credit for summing up the whole history of music in one miovement (kind of)!  Actually B goes right up to the present IMHO - some late Beethoven works certainly fit right in with Prokofiev and Bartok...not to mention the recent Stockhausen/Beethoven double concert....

More on this endlessly fascinating piano sonata in some previous posts here and here.

1 comment:

  1. That performance of the last movement of Op.110 is tremendous. He is living through the music as in his ever changing expressions. I am fascinated by this sonata, which seems to say so much of Beethoven's life. Many thanks.